Today, I finally had the opportunity to chat with entrepreneur Casey Bryden of Sunbella, a brand of premium sun protection umbrellas (which comes at the perfect time now that summer is here in full swing). And here's what she had to say!
1). Please tell our readers about your background.
I have a degree in marketing and management and began my career in research and analysis, which gave me an appreciation for the value of statistics and market research as a foundation for business decisions. Just prior to starting my own business, I worked as Campaign Manager at Tourism Western Australia, managing multi-million dollar campaigns and working with some of Australia's best marketing agencies.
I live in Perth in Western Australia, with my husband and two children. Perth is the sunniest capital in Australia, so we spend much of our free time enjoying the outdoors, either camping or at the beach. As a result of our sunny, outdoor lifestyle, Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, which is what led my mom and me to start our business, Sunbella.
We design and manufacture personal sun umbrellas. We aim to help women feel beautiful, and stay beautiful, by providing them with elegant and effective sun protection.
2). Why did you start your business?
Jillian (Sunbella Co-founder) is a clinical nurse who spent years spent witnessing and treating the long-term effects of UV exposure. She heard firsthand from frustrated skin cancer sufferers who avoided sun-safety because existing products compromised their style or gave them hat-hair. At just 32 years old, I have lost count of how many moles I’ve had to have removed from my body - I think it is around 13.
A global search unearthed a gap in the market for a modern sun umbrella with appropriate UV protection, so we set out to create one. Together, we have developed a range of award-winning UPF50+ parasols that offer effective and attractive sun protection for every occasion.
Our designs are sleek and modern iterations of the traditional sun umbrella that enhance a woman’s style, rather than overpower it. Signature wind-vents allow the breeze to dissipate through the center. The unique straight canopy can be angled, allowing the wind to pass across rather than flip it inside out and light-weight and high-quality materials ensure comfort and convenience.
Sunbella won the 2015 AusMumpreneur Business Excellence, the 2015 Stirling Micro-Business Award and, most recently, a Sunbella parasol was gifted to The Duchess of Cornwall by the State of Western Australia.
3). What market does your business serve?
Broadly, our customers are women who want, or need, to protect their skin. Their motivations range from short-term protection against sunburn to long-term prevention of premature aging, aversions to sunscreens, or a dislike of hat hair, photosensitivity due to medications or illness, through to those that have been directly or indirectly affected by skin cancer.
They use their sun umbrella daily, either on the commute to work, walking the kids to school, taking the dog to the park, or going to the beach or local cafe. They also use their sun umbrella for special events such as weddings, polo, races, celebrations, or even official ceremonial duties as it allows them to remain unflustered throughout the day and maintain their look into the evening.
We sell online and through retailers. We also offer bespoke branded parasols for corporate clients as well as hire packages for weddings.
Our products are unique worldwide, which has been proven by our international clientele, including the One and Only Resort in the Maldives, our stockist in Mauritius, and regular sales to the UK, Canada, and the United States - particularly to California, Florida, and New York.
All of our sun umbrellas are certified to UPF50+ in accordance with AS/NZS 4399:1996 by the Australian Radiation and Nuclear Protection Authority. The tightly-woven fabrics are further enhanced with a UV-blocker. Our designs make it possible for women to protect their skin and feel elegant at the same time.
4). What's the largest challenge you've encountered as a business owner?
Our greatest challenge has been overcoming the stigma associated with using an umbrella for sun protection, and simultaneously, the perception that you can’t be sun-smart and look good at the same time.
To overcome this, we’ve avoided advertising (telling) and have chosen to position our product as a high-end fashion accessory through collaborations and third-party referrals. Our strategic, below-the-line marketing activities focus on PR and social media, to demonstrate to women that a Sunbella parasol negates these barriers, allowing them to be sun smart and stylish at the same time.
This has included actively partnering with fashion bloggers and local labels as well as our own brand ambassador program. Our sun safe and stylish message comes from well-respected and stylish women from across Australia, rather than, say, an ad telling people that they should buy a Sunbella. This gives our product credibility, improves our brand awareness and integrity, and has seen our sales grow by 200% year on year for the last six years.
One example of how third party referrals have worked for us occurred in 2015 when we worked with the state Government to arrange for a custom-made Sunbella to be gifted by the State to The Duchess of Cornwall on the Royal Visit to Perth. The Duchess used the Sunbella throughout her visit and this resulted in over $20,000 worth of sales in a two-week period.
5). What's your best piece of business advice?
Seek out other entrepreneurs who are on a similar journey, and travel the road with them.
Starting your own business is daunting and, particularly in the first few years, there were many occasions when we felt that we were pioneering uncharted territory. However, over the last few years, we have built friendships with incredible, inspiring businesswomen from across the country. And despite us being in a variety of industries, from fashion, food, charities, wellness, services, etc, our journeys are very similar.
There is much that we can do and learn from each other. By sharing the things that we have learned (be that about leveraging partnerships, branding, pricing, book-keeping, importing, SEM, shipping, wholesaling, managing social media, website design, inventory management, etc.,) either through our mistakes or our wins, we all grow together exponentially.
6). How do you like to relax?
Managing a business, raising a six-year-old and a three-year-old, and running a household has its challenges. My computer lives on the kitchen bench and, while flexible working hours has its advantages for a young family, it can make it difficult to switch off - it’s after 10 PM as I write this.
My relaxation comes through exercise. I take 30 minutes every day to either run, cross train, HIIT, or cycle. I’m currently three months into a #30for365 challenge; 30 minutes of exercise every day for a year. I completed this challenge back in 2015 and found that I was happier, more productive, and more content. Plus I love a challenge!
To pick up a Sunbella or learn more about Casey, visit Amazon or follow the brand on: